Students host ‘Young Athletes’ program for children with disabilities

Story by Michelle Hawks, Contributing writer, and Destinee Marking, Contributing writer

The Exercise Science Club is partnering with Special Olympics of Murray to host the Young Athletes program.

The six-week program began Jan. 28 and is held at Murray Elementary School. Kelsey Parrish, president of the Exercise Science Club, said the program is intended for children too young to participate in Special Olympics.

According to its website, Special Olympics provides  year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities while developing a sense of community among participants.

Young Athletes mimics the principles and goals of Special Olympics.

Each week, children focus on a different skill, such as balancing and sidestepping, by rotating through different stations. She said these help children both in daily functions and in sports, if they choose to pursue them.  

Despite the program’s name, Parrish said it is not limited to children with disabilities, something she said was a huge benefit for all children involved.

“It teaches children how to respect each other, even if they are different from you,” Parrish said.

Parrish said children also learn communication skills in the process.

Laura Miller, speech pathologist at Murray Middle School, coordinates events for Special Olympics. She said families from surrounding areas have started to bring their children to the program.

However, she said she hopes to see programs like it develop in other communities.

Parrish said it “means a lot” to work with Special Olympics.

“This is something the exercise science program is really passionate about, especially since this is what we want to do with our lives,” Parrish said.

She said this gives students experience with a broad range of cases they might not otherwise receive.

Parrish said the program inspired her to pursue a career working with special needs children.

“You really don’t realize the effect you have on these children until you see them the next year, and they remember your name,” Parrish said.

Miller said this program is possible because of fundraising throughout the year, especially at the annual Polar Plunge.

“The money we get from that funds everything we do and offer these events for free,“ Miller said. “And we really pride ourselves on being able to do that.”

According to the Special Olympics website, the 2017 Western Kentucky Polar Plunge & Polar 5K is on Feb. 18, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event will be held at Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park in Gilbertsville, Kentucky.